It wasn’t until after my retirement that Ihad the time to read scientific papers in medical journals with anything likeclose attention. Until then, I had, like most doctors, read the authors’conclusions and assumed that they bore some necessary relation to what had gonebefore. I had also naively assumed that the editors had done their job andchecked the intellectual coherence and probity of the contents of theirjournals.
It was only after I started to write aweekly column about the medical journals, and began to read scientific papersfrom beginning to end, that I realized just how bad — inaccurate, misleading,sloppy, illogical — much of the medical literature, even in the best journals,frequently was. My discovery pleased and reassured me in a way: for it showedme that, even in advancing age, I was still capable of being surprised.
I came to recognize various signs of a badpaper: the kind of paper that purports to show that people who eat more thanone kilo of broccoli a week were 1.17 times more likely than those who eat lessto suffer late in life from pernicious anaemia. 46) There is a great deal ofthis kind of nonsense in the medical journals which, when taken up bybroadcasters and the lay press, generates both health scares and short-liveddietary enthusiasms.
Why is so much bad science published?
A recent paper, titled ‘The NaturalSelection of Bad Science’, published on the Royal Society’s open sciencewebsite, attempts to answer this intriguing and important question.
According to the authors, the problem isnot merely that people do bad science, as they have always done, but that ourcurrent system of career advancement positively encourages it. They quote an anonymousresearcher who said pithily: ‘Poor methods get results.’ What is important isnot truth, let alone importance, but publication, which has become almost anend in itself. There has been a kind of inflationary process at work: 47)nowadays anyone applying for a research post has to have published twice thenumber of papers that would have been required for the same post only 10 yearsago. Never mind the quality, then, count the number. It is at least anobjective measure.
In addition to the pressure to publish,there is a preference in journals for positive rather than negative results. Toprove that factor a has no effect whatever on outcome b may be important in thesense that it refutes a hypothesis, but it is not half so captivating as thatfactor a has some marginally positive statistical association with outcome b.It may be an elementary principle of statistics that association is notcausation, but in practice everyone forgets it.
The easiest way to generate positiveassociations is to do bad science, for example by trawling through a whole lotof data without a prior hypothesis. For example, if you took 100 dietaryfactors and tried to associate them with flat feet, you would find some of themthat were associated with that condition, associations so strong that at firstsight they would appear not to have arisen by chance.
Once it has been shown that the consumptionof, shall we say, red cabbage is associated with flat feet, one of two thingscan happen: someone will try to reproduce the result, or no one will, in whichcase it will enter scientific mythology. The penalties for having publishedresults which are not reproducible, and prove before long to be misleading,usually do not cancel out the prestige of having published them in the first place:and therefore it is better, from the career point of view, to publish junk thanto publish nothing at all. A long list of publications, all of them valueless,is always impressive.
48)Attempts have been made to (controlthis inflation命题人改编为curb this kindtendency),（for example by trying, when it comes tocareer advancement这部分被出题人删除）, to incorporate somemeasure of quality as well as quantity into the assessment of an applicant’spublished papers. This is the famedcitation index, that is to say the number of times a paper has been quotedelsewhere in the scientific literature, the assumption being that an importantpaper will be cited more often than one of small account. 49) This would bereasonable enough if it were not for the fact that scientists can easilyarrange to cite themselves in their future publications, or get associates todo so for them in return for similar favors.
Boiling down an individual’s output tosimple, objective metrics, such as number of publications or journal impacts,entails considerable savings in time, energy and ambiguity. Unfortunately, thelong-term costs of using simple quantitative metrics to assess researcher meritare likely to be quite great.
50) If we are serious about ensuring that ourscience is both meaningful and reproducible, we must ensure that ourinstitutions incentivize that kind of science.
In other words, what weneed is more emphasis on personal contact and even nepotism in the way careersare advanced: but tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets ofAskelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice…
46) Thereis a great deal of this kind of nonsense in the medical journals which, whentaken up by broadcasters and the lay press, generates both health scares andshort-lived dietary enthusiasms.
【句子分析】从词汇考查的角度来说，本句话中 nonsense结合上下文最好翻译为无稽之谈/荒谬的理论；其次short-lived一词的正确翻译为“短暂的，短期的”；“when taken upby broadcasters and the lay press”为省略句，省略了“this kind ofnonsense is”；“take up”根据语境可以引申翻译为“传播”。
47) nowadaysanyone applying for a research post has to have published twice the number ofpapers that would have been required for the same post only 10 years ago.
【句子分析】本句话中 applying for a research post充当不定代词anyone的定语，由于定语较短可以翻译到被修饰词之前，处理为“......的人”；其次本句话中 that would have beenrequired for the same post only 10 years ago充当thenumber of papers的定语从句。
48）Attemptshave been made to curb this kind tendency, for example by trying to incorporatesome measure of quality as well as quantity into the assessment of an applicant’spublished papers.
49）This would be reasonable enough if it were not for the fact thatscientists can easily arrange to cite themselves in their future publications,or get associates to do so for them in return for similar favors.
【句子分析】本句中，“if it were not for the fact that scientists can easily arrange tocite themselves in their future publications, or get associates to do so forthem in return for similar favors”充当从句部分，从句部分较长，同时从句中又包含了虚拟语气和同位语从句。“associates”意为“同事”。
50) Ifwe are serious about ensuring that our science is both meaningful andreproducible, we must ensure that our institutions incentivize that kind ofscience.
【句子分析】本句中we must ensure that...science充当主句，if we...reproducible是条件状语从句。
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